CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — On Saturday, May 31, a bevy of Italian art collectors and dealers from around the globe descended on CRN Auctions, Inc for the auction dubbed “A Passion for the Renaissance,” works of art from the estate of David Abbate, New York. Nestled on a quiet street in Cambridge, the gallery was transformed into a haven for collectors, displaying 467 lots of Italian Renaissance, baroque, Spanish and Latin American works of art, furniture, decorations, books and textiles. The unreserved auction generated significant international attention, with 100 percent of the lots selling and sales totaling more than $1.2 million.
The single-owner collection reflected a lifelong passion for Fifteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century works of art, furniture and decorations. Inspired by his father, Peter Abbate, who was also an avid collector, David Abbate began collecting Japanese swords at age 17. He soon became enamored of all things Renaissance, becoming an ardent scholar of the period. In addition to his career at CBS News, where he worked for 30 years as an art director and graphic artist, Abbate was a talented woodworker. He created his own frames for the works he collected and completely transformed his home into an Italian palazzo to house his collection.
Auctioneer Carl Nordblom began the sale by thanking his colleagues and crediting Karin Phillips for pulling the entire event together. “The Italian Renaissance is my favorite period in history and art,” commented Phillips. “This was the most interesting and exciting auction I have put together since I began in business in 1975.”
After months of backbreaking work and intensive research, Phillips was concerned that the CRN gallery would not be able to accommodate the entire collection. Once the exhibition was set up, however, Phillips took the time to celebrate the accomplishment. “I put on some Renaissance music, had a glass of wine and absorbed the history of the objects. You could feel David Abbate in the room.”
The sale started on a high note when the first lot, an oil on panel depicting the “Madonna and Child with Mary Magdalene,” achieved the second highest price of the day. The panel, attributed to Jacopino di Giovanni di Francesco (1495–1554), the Florentine painter who studied under Andrea del Sarto and later under Pontormo, had a well-documented provenance and sparked competitive bidding from the phones before finally selling to a phone bidder for $84,000, far exceeding the $8/12,000 estimate.
Later, an Italian Renaissance polychromed stucco relief “Madonna and Child” with the same estimate opened at $4,000 and drew fierce bidding from 12 phone lines and the Internet before finally selling to the Internet for $86,100. The 36-inch relief was thought to have originated from the Florentine school of Donato di Noccolo di Betto Bardi (1386–1466), better known as Donatello.
Old Master paintings, appreciated by collectors for their intrinsic beauty and technical prowess, are also valued for the stories they tell. A few of the stories in Abbate’s collection included “Cleopatra Dissolving her Pearl Earring” in a cup of vinegar to win a bet with her lover Marc Antony, an oil on canvas that sold for $10,800; “Saint Agatha,” who sacrificed her breasts to remain a virgin, realized $7,200; and two examples from the legend of Santa Lucia who sacrificed her eyes to remain chaste. All are common themes for Old Master works.
Another legend popular during the Renaissance, the “Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene,” was represented in an oil on panel attributed to the Circle of Bernardino Luini (1482–1532), a Northern Italian artist from the Circle of Leonardo da Vinci. The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene recounts the story of a penitent Mary Magdalene living in a remote cave in France without food or clothing for 30 years where angels came and lifted her to heaven seven times a day. Estimated at $6/8,000, the panel sold over the phone for $48,000.
A fortuitous discovery of a small oil on panel hidden in a bureau drawer was cataloged as a Sixteenth Century work attributed to the Circle of Raphael (1483–1520). The “Portrait of a Young Man,” depicting a handsome young man in a cap with repetitive stitching on his collar that read TETE, more than doubled high estimate to bring $24,000 from the same phone bidder who bought the Magdalene. The same bidder also bought “Holy Family with Two Angels,” attributed to Il Giampietrino (Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, 1495–1540), a Northern Italian painter of the Lombard school, who specialized in creating large altarpieces and was thought to be one of the most talented pupils of da Vinci. The work exceeded its $6/8,000 estimate, fetching $33,000.
Other highlights included an Italian Renaissance polychromed stucco relief of the “Madonna and Child” attributed to Domenico di Paris (1443–1501), which soared beyond its $4/6,000 estimate to sell for $37,200, despite large areas of visible restoration. A Sixteenth Century Florentine marble relief “Madonna and Child,” measuring 14 by 9½ inches in a David Abbate frame, also soared well beyond its $2,5/3,500 estimate, realizing $27,600.
No collection of Renaissance works would be complete without representation from the famous Medici family. Abbate’s collection did not disappoint: a selection of 15 miniature wax portraits divided into four lots brought a combined total of $13,400.
The highlights of the furniture offerings included an Italian carved walnut two-part cabinet with figural carving that achieved $16,800; an Italian walnut tabletop cassone ornately carved with griffins on paw feet that brought $8,400; and a rare walnut cradle on stand with pierced carved rosettes that sold for $6,600.
A Seventeenth Century set of Italian armor, including an engraved steel breastplate, helmet and set of pauldrons, brought $7,800, while a substantial selection of brightly colored Italian majolica wares featured an impressive two-handled footed jar adorned with a double portrait of a Roman man and woman, $15,600, and a large albarello with double-twist handles, $13,200.
A majority of the lots sold over the phone, with 11 percent of the auction going to Internet bidders. The seven-hour-long sale concluded with a selection of books and Oriental rugs. Part II of the collection from the estate of David Abbate, consisting of Chinese Han tomb ceramics and metals, African tribal arts and Japanese samurai armor, swords and helmets, will be conducted by CRN auctions in the fall.
Prices include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.crnauctions.com or 617-661-9582.